Friday, July 17, 2009

The Civil Rights Act in a Post-Obama World

originally posted on July 1, 2009: On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, where we stand and where we must go in continuing the struggle for civil rights in America.

As we commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 today, I am struck not only by how far America has come in her journey towards equality for all, but even more so by the unique challenge that we face to continue that journey in a social, cultural, and legal climate that prizes post-racialism over anti-discrimination and favors color-blindness and gender-blindness over equal opportunity.

Women leaders in fields where they are grossly underrepresented are
discouraged from joining gender-exclusive professional groups. Equal opportunity programs are being challenged in ballot initiatives in a growing number of states. As we see in this week’s Supreme Court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano, employers are still required to avoid policies that are discriminatory in practice but are given little guidance or legal coverage in making those determinations. And all the while the achievement and access gaps for communities of color, and in some fields, women, is widening.

Many progressives predicted that society would suffer from many unintentionally un-progressive consequences in a post-Hilary, post-Obama world. The diminishing value being placed on pro-active, preemptive anti-discrimination policies and their original intent are a prime example.

It is for this very reason that we can no longer solely rely on traditional “civil rights” law (although there is still a dire need for such policies to be protected, strengthened, and aggressively enforced). As Congress currently debates landmark legislation in the areas of health care, higher education, and energy, it is vital that discussions of disparities, disproportionate impact, access, and bias be seriously taken into account and yield tangible provisions woven into the fabric of these and any other legislation that has implications for fields and opportunities where equality has not yet been achieved.

For those of us not satisfied living in a society where diversity efforts are blasé, acknowledgement of race is passé, conversations about gender are cliché, and civil rights laws are perverted with the support of our nation’s highest court, time is of the essence. We must fight to ensure that the current rapidly advancing progressive policies in education, healthcare and energy maintain the same explicit spirit of justice and equality that the Civil Rights Act was designed to impart.

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